The Clay Ran Red

Sunday, May 30, 2010 /by

The clay ran red by Pete Bodo

Given the events of the past 12 months, I wonder how many people shrugged and thought: Oh, yeah, Roland Garros. . . that means Roger and Rafa again. It's sure starting to look as if that might be the case again, although I must say that the sight of Robin Soderling's name so close to Federer's gives me pause - not as much pause as if Soderling's name were closer to Nadal's than Federer's, but you get my point.

I have a particular, self-interested reason for anticipating a final between Federer and Nadal: So brace yourself for a little shameless self-promotion, although the nature of the pitch might be of interesting for larger reasons. I have a new book out called The Clay Ran Red, which is a history of the Federer vs. Nadal rivalry at Roland Garros. I need to explain about that.

Faithful readers of TennisWorld for the past five years know I'm proud of the fact that this weblog was a groundbreaking enterprise, made possible largely to the support of Tennis magazine and Tennis.com. They've enabled me to be a gainfully employed blogger. So it was only natural that I'd be interested in taking this adventure in new media to a new level, and this book is it. The Clay Ran Red is a different kind of book, because it doesn't exist - at least not as that tangible object we call "a book." It's an e-book, which means you can only download it to your e-reader - in this case an Amazon Kindle.

This all started when Scott Waxman, my literary agent, decided to get into the e-publishing business. He suggested that since I had covered every match Roger and Rafa have played at Roland Garros, why didn't I just use that five-plus years worth of material, and anything else that's relevant to it (various posts and articles on the clay-court game, for example) and find a way to weave them into a continuous narrative that tells the history of the rivalry in Paris? 

I thought it was a great idea, even though my 2005 TW archive has vanished into the ether(net). Journalists produce a massive body of work, but because they do it at such regular intervals, whatever they wrote last (whether it's good or bad) is immediately rendered obsolete by whatever it is they write next. That's not just sort of sad, it also represents a tremendous amount of pure waste, because journalists write - as the saying goes - the first draft of history.

But that first draft is never seen or even presented as a whole. Traditional book publishers avoid "collected works," and previously published material, like the plague (unless the author is hugely famous), mainly because of the time and cost involved in publishing a typical book. But an e-book is different; it can be created by a publisher at a comparatively low cost, pulled together quickly, and made available for purchase painlessly - and at an attractive price. I found it interesting to review my thoughts on this rivalry in a tight, narrative form, and I'm hoping tennis fans will as well. Furthermore, my new book simply could not exist if it were not for the advantages offered by e-publishing, yet now it does. That's a marvelous thing in a way that has nothing to do with me.

Would someone with a Kindle (or a similar Kindle-capable portable device) want to plonk down six bucks for, basically, a full-length book (The Clay Ran Red is probably around 45,000 words) that focuses on rivalry of Rafa and Roger at Roland Garros? I guess I'm about to find out.

I wrote about the Kindle back in December, after I got one for Christmas. All I can say is that after reading three books on it, I decided to go back and try a "regular" book. But I decided, "why bother?" I had my doubts about e-readers. I don't have them anymore. I've gotten so accustomed to the device that I'll only read a book on paper anymore if I can't get it electronically.

I'm not alone in this, and the introduction of the Apple iPad has accelerated this shift to electronic books. If you look at the projections for e-publishing, and the sale of e-readers (all kinds of manufacturers are working overtime to catch up with "tablets" of their own), the numbers are staggering. Quite honestly, I don't really expect to be a big winner in this rush to e-books; it's still too early in the game. But I like the idea of being out in front on this, not so much because I'm a techie (which I'm not), but because I like new ideas, innovation, and experimentation. That's how this very weblog was spawned.

Anyway, I hope those of you who have an e-reader buy my book, or recommend it to someone who has one. Because I'd like to do this again, with another subject. And I'd like to see all kinds of writers who can't bust through the logjam at traditional publishers get their shot at success, at having their books available to interested readers (doesn't everyone have an unpublished novelist in the family?). Right now, that doesn't happen; book publishers are simply too captive to the "commercial realities" that dictate what is published.

101255770 But on to the tennis. I was stunned to see that David Ferrer lost to Jurgen Melzer (and with a 6-0 set in that straight-set blowout!). And that made Andy Roddick's equally desultory loss to Teimuraz Gabashvili seem that much more disappointing. One thing these past few days has impressed on me is the brutal and, quite frankly, not entirely satisfying scheduling (or is it a format issue, plain and simple) system in play at a Grand Slam that plays best-of-five deuce sets but is also at the mercy of the weather.

I mean, look at Ivan Ljubicic. He notches up an inspired, epic five-set win over Mardy Fish (10-8 in the fifth!) on Friday, and he suddenly looks like he may have sloughed off that Grand Slam hex. Then he has to bounce back today and play Thomaz Bellucci, and he runs out of steam after losing the first set tiebreaker, to go down in straight sets. Is there a better example of the idea of wasted effort out there?

I guess such things have always happened. But in this day and age, do things have to be set up to make it so likely that they'll happen? 

[[I'm traveling to Paris tomorrow, but Bobby Chintapalli will be here with a Crisis Center post to keep you all busy until I get out to the stade Roland Garros to produce the first of my red-meat posts. I'll be in Paris for the duration.]]

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